Jay Paterno had just gotten done working at the stadium his father helped turn into a college football shrine.
Major college football’s winningest coach was fired last week by school trustees in the aftermath of shocking child sexual abuse charges against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
Jay Paterno remains on staff as the quarterback coach, though it’s unclear how much longer he might stick around, too after this season, when the school embroiled in turmoil eventually gets around to hiring a new leader for the high-profile football program. Saturday was the last home game of the year for the Nittany Lions.
For now, the younger Paterno is following in his father’s footsteps, with similar jet black sneakers. Jay Paterno is expected to move from the press box to the sideline the rest of the season to relay play calls.
“I knew it was going to be extremely emotional for him,” interim coach Tom Bradley said. “But, I thought he did a great job today and I appreciate the way he prepared for the game in spite of everything that happened.”
Emotions were still raw and nerves frayed Sunday for nearly everyone in Happy Valley following the most turbulent week in Penn State history.
Wearing a Penn State sweatshirt, Mike Ratchford, 53, of Roaring Brook Township, stopped by in front of Paterno’s home Sunday morning at the end of a leafy, dead-end street to say a prayer “first and foremost” for the victims, but also for the Paternos.
“Certainly, Joe, in his heart said he should have done more. What exactly he knew, I don’t know,” Ratchford said Sunday, in town for the weekend for the Nebraska game. “But his whole legacy has been one of service. You can’t forget that in this rush to judgment ... It would be a shame to throw that out the window.”
Paterno has donated millions back to the school, and his name is on the campus library, not the football building or athletic complex. He’s known for putting as much emphasis on academics as athletics.
Bryan Cairns, 18, drove up with three friends from south Jersey this weekend for the game. They stopped in front of Paterno’s house, too, to pay respects.
Cairns said the scandal damaged Paterno’s reputation. “It’s going to take a while for his legacy to become the legacy it should be,” he said. “But time heals all.”
A show of support grew Sunday on the Paternos’ front lawn and walk. Hand-written signs of support were staked next to flower bouquets. Two blue and white pom-poms sat next to a yellow legal pad left for admirers to pass along good wishes.
The day before, Jay Paterno entered Beaver Stadium with a display of passion rarely seen in his 17 years on the staff. He pumped his arms, exchanged numerous high-fives and shouted “Let’s Go!” several times before turning into the locker room.
It was the first time he was arriving at the stadium without his father as the boss.
“Joe was always telling us about the blue line of practice. When you cross the blue line, the only thing you can control is what you’re doing right there,” Jay Paterno said. “So we just had to imagine there was a blue line coming into this stadium and once we were here we were focused on the task at hand. Just a little short.”
Jay returned later to his parents’ home to retrieve his green SUV from the driveway when he received a spontaneous ovation from the roughly 75 onlookers who gathered after the loss to the Cornhuskers.
Saturday’s game was seen by most students, residents and players as the beginning of a long, arduous healing process for a community so intertwined with the ups and downs of the football team.
Nebraska and Penn State gathered for a pregame prayer service, kneeling at midfield in an emotional moment that left the 107,000-plus fans in reverent silence. Then it was back to football, even though the outcome wasn’t quite what the Nittany Lions (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) had hoped. They came up short in the fourth quarter trying to rally from a 17-point deficit.
“For those three or four hours we were on the field, everything felt normal,” safety Nick Sukay said.
Everything changed Nov. 5, when Sandusky was charged with sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year span. The athletic director and a university administrator were charged with perjury and failing to report a 2002 allegation of Sandusky assaulting a boy in the Penn State showers witnessed by graduate assistant Mike McQueary.
Now the receivers coach, McQueary was among the missing Saturday after being placed on indefinite paid leave a day earlier by the school. His name surfaced as a grand jury witness to the 2002 abuse charge. Sandusky, who retired in 1999 but lives in the area and had access to school facilities, maintains his innocence.
McQueary, Joe Paterno says, told him that Sandusky had behaved inappropriately, but not to the extent of the detailed testimony. Paterno then passed the information on to Curley, but the report was not given to police.
Mounting public outcry over whether Penn State leaders should have done more to prevent more alleged cases of abuse led the firings of school president Graham Spanier and Paterno.
Once considered Paterno’s heir apparent for drawing up Penn State’s “Linebacker U.” defensive schemes, Sandusky, through his attorney, has said he is innocent. Paterno, 84, is not implicated in the case, and prosecutors have said he is not a target of the investigation.
Joe Paterno has been in seclusion the last couple days after being ousted by the only employer he’s ever had since 1950, the year he became a Penn State assistant. JoePa was promoted to head coach in 1966, amassing a Division I record 409 victories.
Paterno spent his first fall Saturday in 61 years without football elsewhere — returning home only after the game had ended and heading directly inside. His family has said they’re under direction from high-profile criminal attorney Wick Sollers from Washington, D.C., to stay silent on the matter.
There has been considerable speculation about potential lawsuits in the wake of the allegations, which include charges Sandusky molested children in the Penn State football team’s facilities.
“At this stage, however, he has no choice but to be patient and defer to the legal process,” another Paterno son, Scott, said in a statement Friday for his father. “He cooperated fully with the grand jury and he will continue to cooperate with the investigation as we move forward.”